Pity the downtrodden landlord: Big property owners say they’re eviction moratorium victims
Don Ryan / AP

DETROIT—According to a recent article in the Detroit business news magazine Crain’s, the CDC’s federal eviction moratorium is hitting Metro Detroit landlords hard.

Justin Lindenmuth, owner of Lindenmuth Realty, owns “about 100 Detroit-area houses” and has said it “feels like landlords are taking the brunt of it and it doesn’t seem really fair.” Another landlord, Derrell Grant, owner of D. Grant Holdings and J.P.A. Holdings, owns 68 houses in the Northwest Detroit area and claims that “25 occupants weren’t able to keep up with rent.” Property management companies are also getting hit hard by the moratorium, according to Crain’s.

Pity the downtrodden landlord.

In an attempt to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, the eviction moratorium was extended to Oct. 3rd in areas still being hit hard by COVID-19, including Wayne County, Michigan. What this extension means for other areas not yet covered is that evictions could be banned if the transmission rate of COVID-19 reaches what the CDC considers “substantial or high.” The moratorium extension is also a means of buying time, to act as a stopgap while “federal rent aid to reach tenants and for more people to get vaccinated.”

If that aid money doesn’t get out in time, according to Crain’s, the fear is that evictions will “begin en masse” and “both the tenants and the landlords will suffer.”

The problem is not that these property holding companies masquerading as “mom and pop” landlords are going to go under or that they are victims of the moratorium. In truth, the mega-property-owners like Grant and Lindenmuth will likely be among the least affected by the continuing COVID-19 plague. Generally, it’s tenants who are taking the brunt of both the health and economic impacts of the pandemic.

Part of the material rationale behind the extension is the spread of the Delta variant of the coronavirus and another is that the vaccine rate has stalled just shy of 56%. Considering that the Lambda variant, which is resistant to the current vaccine, has already made landfall here in the U.S., transmission rates are almost certain to increase. While many people have been able to work remotely, several more had to make the choice between going back to work and risking their safety or staying home and not earning money to eat or pay rent.

Playing a role in the stagnant vaccine uptake is the “anti-vaxx” movement. Anti-vaccination energy is strong in Michigan, where many are fighting against so-called “vaccination segregation”—never once minding the fact that vaccine distribution is already segregated and not as accessible to people living in lower-income, Black, and Latinx communities and among people living with disabilities.

All of this blurs the line between anti-vaccination beliefs (attributed to conspiracy theories) on the one hand, and the “vaccine hesitant” as well as those who have little access to vaccinations on the other. “Vaccine hesitant” implies not so much an adherence to anti-vaccination beliefs but rather more vaccine concerns among those communities targeted by state violence, say in the examples of those historically targeted by forced sterilization and eugenics programs.

Regardless of the various reasons, the material fact is that vaccine rates are proportional to income—which is to say, those who are unvaccinated tend to have lower incomes. The importance of this is that Black and Latinx communities, as well as people with disabilities, are overrepresented in this lower-income demographic—the same groups of people who are most likely to rent their homes rather than own them. They are thus the ones with the most at stake in the eviction moratorium.

Thus we return to our question of the poor landlords hit by the moratorium and unpaid rent. To be sure, there are actual “mom-and-pop” landlords who rent out the basement of their home to make some extra money or such. Under the law, the holding companies like Lindenmuth’s and Grant’s will be treated the same as these “mom and pop” landlords while the latter are disproportionately impacted by loss of income.

Yet, according to the business press, we’re meant to feel sorry for all of them equally.

The owners of property “en masse” have it wrong: There is no equal suffering between tenants and mega-landlords here. If tenants get evicted en masse, more properties will become available for developers and other property management companies to buy up at lower costs.

The ban on evictions may be aimed at reducing the spread of COVID-19, however, housing is a human right and that is what the eviction moratorium is protecting right now.


Andrew Wright
Andrew Wright

Andrew Wright is an essayist and activist based in Detroit.  He has written and presented on topics such as suicide and mental health, class struggle, gender studies, politics, ideology, and philosophy.